This week, like any other in my so-called semi-productive life, was spent book-hunting, book-binging, reading books, dissing books, loving books, cooking pasta for lunch and dinner, grooming and feeding and amusing the cat, fantasizing about life minus work, and teaching. There was a more-than-usual amount of news monitoring, and a rare contribution to body count at the demo held in UP MassComm and UP Law, my presence courtesy of a well-informed, socially aware, and Facebook-abiding friend who, naturally, was far more updated than I was regarding events in my workplace. There were expressions of indignation, outrage, and commiseration—mostly said to myself and the three other hermits I talk to. There were fantasies about the assassinations of GMA and her allies, coupled with uncharacteristic desires for the reinstitution of capital punishment and the explosion of pure, unadulterated anarchy. But, of the 168 hours of this week, the chunks of time spent on matters outside my usual, shamelessly self-centered routine were minimal, and ultimately, inconsequential. I allowed myself the luxury of not clicking on the hundred thumbnails of ghastly photos documenting the victims of the Maguindanao Massacre, turning away from full-size images of the wholesale violence committed against, upon, unto the men and women, journalists and lawyers, Muslims and Christians, Mindanaoans and Filipinos, as I would from the scary parts of an episode of Supernatural that I happened to be awake enough to watch. Sure, I felt outrage. Sure, I felt grief. But still I ate, slept, worked, and (like everyone else this weekend, it seems) malled. As if nothing catastrophic had happened.
My capacity to go on with my life as I know it despite the Maguindanao Massacre is the outcome of two things: ignorance and literal-mindedness. I know next to nothing about Mindanao. What I know about it I keep filed in some inaccessible recess in my mind, where it vanishes into the realm of non-retrieval behind what I deem to be more pressing concerns. My friends who are from Mindanao no longer live there. I have only been to Mindanao twice—to attend the wedding of friends in a Bukidnon monastery and to conduct interviews in a Davao hotel as one of the judges in a scholarship competition—and both trips entailed severe cloistering to the point of effacing the region from the experience, only for it to surface in token touristy purchases of coffee and durian. My point being, I have no personal attachment to Mindanao. The corollary being, I am detached from Mindanao. To this Manila-centric, QC-based, middle class, feeling public school titser, Mindanao is simply somewhere else. We can’t possibly be in a war-torn country, not when places like The Fort and Greenbelt 5 are fully operational and often packed with people who look and smell good (or seem to or try to). We can’t possibly be living in the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, surpassing even Iraq and Afghanistan, not when we can step out of our houses and there are jeeps to ride, places to go, movies to see. But the fact holds, and it is loud and clear: the Philippines is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. So is Mindanao somewhere else, or—by some failure of our imagination and experience—are we?
We engage in debate, like true armchair activists, when it comes to issues that matter to us, and what matters to us is what we know much about because it directly affects us, and what directly affects us, it seems, has to be direct at its most literal in order to matter to us and deliver us to the arenas of debate and action. The venues (UP MassComm and UP Law) and participants (mostly UP MassComm and UP Law students/faculty) of the demo last Friday underscore this, the journalists and lawyers slain in Maguindanao being people of their kind. While at the demo, it was bizarre to see a parade—marching band, orange balloons, happiness, and all—going around the academic oval to commemorate the centennial of the College of Engineering. Not that there’s anything wrong with this—hey, a hundred years is definitely a big deal—but I wonder if the parade would’ve changed in flavor or taken place at all had engineers been among the Maguindanao dead. Things were quiet over at CAL too—would this still be the case had an artist been among the victims?
When I do run, I run with the artsy crowd—which I say with both fondness and disdain—and if there is any nagging question about this crowd pushed to the fore by current events, it is this: what is the artist’s response to the Maguindanao Massacre? There was so much noise over the book blockade, and then over the National Artist controversy, which are things that directly—literally, pointedly, no game of six degrees necessary here—affect us. Where is that kind of fury and furor (at the very least) now? Given we artists are allegedly known for our imagination, then it would certainly be a failure on many counts if we are unable to imagine the Maguindanao Massacre as a direct affront to us, unable to imagine the means by which we can combat the seductions of silence and complacency and forgetfulness, unable to imagine the methods with which to address each other and cure our ignorance and ensure that life does not go on unmarked, unresponsive to, and unchanged by this most sickening of all the sickening events we have been through under this regime.
Wise words of a great writer: We tell ourselves stories in order to live. With a government capable of calling a “massacre” a “situation,” or an “arrest” an “invitation,” we know that our stories—among many things—are at stake. What are we going to do about it?